A Swiss researcher has unveiled a first-of-its-kind telescopic contact lens, giving hope to millions suffering from low vision and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) a better and stronger vision.
The optics specialist has also developed complementary smart glasses that recognise winks and ignore blinks, allowing wearers of the contact lenses to switch between normal and the magnified vision.
"We think these lenses hold a lot of promise for low vision and AMD," said Eric Tremblay from the Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.
"There is a strong need for something more integrated. We are hopeful that the research will eventually become a real option for people suffering from AMD," he added.
Since eyes need a steady supply of oxygen, the team has spent the last couple of years making the lenses more breathable - which is a critical requirement.
To achieve oxygen permeability, they are incorporating tiny air channels roughly 0.1mm wide within the lens to allow oxygen to flow around and underneath the complex and normally impermeable optical structures to get to the cornea.
The results are improving as the mechanical and manufacturing processes are refined and better understood, scientists noted.
The team has also developed a novel method of electronically switching the wearer's view between normal, unmagnified vision and telescopic.
This switching functionality is crucial for the lenses to be widely useful for non-AMD sufferers, who will be able to have magnification "on demand".
In the system, electronic glasses use a small light source and light detector to recognise winks and ignore blinks.
The wearer winks the right eye for magnification and left eye for normal vision.
"The combination of the telescopic contact lenses and optional blink-controlled eyewear represent a huge leap in functionality and usability in vision aid devices and a major feat for optics research," the team said.